LIFE BEFORE LIFE BELOW

'Memories'

By Wendy De-Veryard

When her father dies, Catherine has to go through his belongings and this sparks off many happy and sad memories
for Catherine. Then among her father' s most treasured possessions, Catherine makes a startling discovery.
Is it possible that she had crossed Vincent's path not just one, but several times in the past?
A delightful story to warm your heart. (Rated PG)

 

Part 1

It seemed strange to Catherine to be unlocking the door of her father's house. Something she hadn't done for many years, not since she had lived there in the day's before college. The worst of it was knowing that on stepping across the threshold she would not be welcomed by his cheerful voice, asking, 'Is that you Catherine?' and hearing the relief in her father 's sigh as she confirmed that it was.

Catherine wondered why it was that a house would always seem so welcoming when the owner was alive, whether they be in or out, but as soon as they had died the house became cold and unfeeling and filled with heartrending memories.

Marilyn, her father's secretary of many years and long time family friend had offered to come over to the house with her this day, but Catherine had insisted she wanted to be there on her own, no matter how traumatic doing so would be. In her heart she was not alone. Vincent, she knew, would be with her in spirit, and as Catherine walked slowly from room to room, remembering times past, she could feel his strength giving her courage to relive those moments. Happier times and sad times, memories of living there with her father, and long before that, memories of her mother too.

Taking off her coat and hanging it upon the coat stand in the hall, Catherine turned down the central heating and went towards the kitchen to make herself some coffee. Standing there some moments later with the steaming mug in her hands Catherine leaned against the work surface and surveyed the room.

No one had been to the house since the morning her father had risen with the intention of going to the office as usual that day. A journey he had made a thousand times and more.

The morning newspaper lay neatly folded on the kitchen table where he'd left it, his cup and breakfast things washed up and laying upon the draining board by the sink.

Catherine smiled, how many times had he told her never to do that? She could hear his voice now telling her, "The one thing you never want to do Catherine, is to come home after a hard day at the office to be faced with the washing up from breakfast."

She could remember replying on more than one occasion, "I'll rinse them through Daddy and leave them on the drainer. I'll put them away when I get home."

He would smile at her, humouring her and before she had even put on her coat and picked up her bag, she would see him, with the tea towel in his hands drying the china and putting it all away before he too, left for work. Stepping across to the table, Catherine picked up the newspaper. Her father had always read the headlines before he left for work, and finished reading the entire paper when he settled down to relax for the evening. It suddenly seemed important to Catherine to know what her father had read for the last time that fateful morning.

Putting her empty mug upon the table, Catherine picked up the newspaper, noticing as she did so a slightly jammy fingerprint in one corner. Catherine studied the print checking it alongside her own. Her father's fingerprint, so unlike hers, so uniquely his own.

A tear gathered in the corner of each eye and Catherine brushed them away as she went across to a drawer beneath the sink and extracted from it a roll of plastic bags and some scissors.

Snapping one bag off from the roll Catherine took the scissors and cut a square from the newspaper containing the fingerprint, to put it carefully into the bag and took it over to her purse. She would treasure it. It was a part of her father and she felt compelled to keep it for ever. Spreading out the newspaper Catherine then scanned the headlines. The giant insurance company Lloyds of London was struggling to stay afloat! Catherine gasped, she knew nothing of this. The report told her that a huge shipping loss in which Lloyds had underwritten fully had almost ruined the company, and they looked fit to sink and never rise again. Catherine wondered how her father had taken that news. When in London many years previous he had taken her down the famous Pepys Street where Samuel Pepys had frequented a coffee bar with friends and after much discussion among themselves they had come up with the idea of insuring ships that carried wares from the West Indies. Bananas, cassava, coffee beans and slaves. No doubt the shock of Lloyds' demise could have set off the beginning of the stroke which had finally claimed her father's life.

Catherine put the newspaper into her bag. She would read it thoroughly later. Taking her cup across to the sink, along with the spoon, she washed them up along with her father's breakfast things, rinsed, dried and put them away. Then leaning back against the sink Catherine's gaze settled upon the window overlooking the back garden. Her swing was still intact, though desperately in need of repainting, and still stood in the centre of the lawn. Catherine wondered why her father had left it there. It had been years since she had last used it, but she knew that deep down like so many other things, her father simply could not bear to part with something that held so many fond memories. No doubt he'd hoped that one day his grandchildren might want to use it. A lump caught in Catherine's throat at the thought. Unlocking the door to the garden Catherine found her feet making the familiar journey across to the swing. She touched the seat and let it travel back and forth, back and forth, hearing the rusty chain squeak and groan. How many times had her father oiled it?

She sat down upon the seat, it still held her weight, but Catherine refrained from shocking it into action, and sat instead, still and quiet, allowing the memories to return, while the tears gently fell. This garden held so many memories. Her oldest being that of running down the garden path from the house to this very swing. She could still feel the excitement as her stomach had knotted and unknotted while the workmen had delivered it and installed it under her scrutiny from the kitchen doorway. Then came her father's declaration that it was ready and waiting to take her up to the sky.

How Catherine had loved those first moments sat upon its seat. Her father pushing her from behind, her mother stood in front ready to catch her should she fall. Her mother's smile had been so infectious and her father's laughter so gay and joyous that Catherine's own happiness had soared on wings as high as the very clouds themselves. Looking now at the rusty old chain, Catherine could remember the time when she had first noticed the many links, then silvery and gleaming and had measured her growth by means of those links. At three years old the top of her head had reached twenty-nine links up. At five years old it had been forty links. At seven years old it had been fifty-eight links, at ten years old? Catherine could not remember this, for from that time on she had stopped counting. It did not seem to matter anymore. Her life then had changed so drastically that the memory of it brought a fresh flood of tears too colossal to bear. The time of her dear mother's death.

 

Catherine had not even known that her mother was ill. All she could remember of her was a happy smiling face, always eager to do something with her, always teaching her new things. Always there. A huge lump threatened to choke Catherine now. It wedged somewhere in her throat and would go neither up nor down. The sobs were beneath it and could not pass and Catherine suddenly felt the need of comfort, of arms around her that she would never know again. Warm arms, loving arms, arms that held her and promised her a happy life, protected her from pain, soothed her. And when those arms had broken and the pain had flooded in Catherine had found that nothing was ever the same again. The security they had always provided had gone. Gone for ever. For a part of herself had died that day with her mother, never to return.

How many years had she wept? Catherine did not know. The bitterness had robbed her of her greatest joys. Had marred the memories and left her feeling bereft and numb. Only her father's deep and constant love had carried her forward, taken her into a future that she had coped with because she knew that he suffered too.

And the one thing that had kept her going was her mother's wish that she should have a happy life. That one thing more than anything had been her anchor, her reason for living life to the full.

Catherine shivered. Suddenly the aloneness was all too much. She had not bargained for the memories. She had intended to come to the house, go through her father's personal belongings take what she wanted to keep and put the house on the market.

Tomorrow she would be prepared. Tomorrow she would come, would allow herself a whole day to gather things into boxes to sift through memories and allow herself the right to cry, the time to heal. For now she needed comfort. She needed arms of love around her. She needed Vincent.

 

Later in the drainage tunnel beneath the park she found solace in those great and mighty arms as they held her tightly. And words of comfort whispered against her hair, "I'm here, your safe. Your safe now." Catherine cried then the sobs that would not come before. They spilled over and cascaded down her cheeks. Her face pressed tightly against his shoulder. "I'm sorry Vincent." She hiccuped some time later and pulled away just slightly to stand within the circle of his arms. "I don't know what came over me." A watery smile touched her trembling lips and the threatened tears fell swiftly again.

Vincent drew her back against him, "Come Catherine you must spend the night Below, you shouldn't be alone tonight."

Catherine pulled away her eyes filling with pain and she shook her head slowly from side to side. "No Vincent. Thank you but no. I have to learn to gain control sooner or later. The apartment will be fine. I just needed you." Her lips trembled unwillingly once more and Vincent's penetrating gaze held hers, "I know," he told her, "I felt your turmoil all day. You should not be alone Catherine, the grief is still too raw."

"I won't do anything stupid Vincent."

"I didn't say you would."

"I've already spent too long Below as it is. I thought I had learned to cope. It was just a silly relapse that's all. I'm fine now." Vincent looked at her hard, searching her face. Through the bond he knew her inner emotions. And he knew she was just trying to be brave for his sake. She knew what it did to him to have her below. So close. "Vincent believe me I can't come running to you every time something happens. I have to learn to stand on my own two feet sometime." Vincent continued to look at her without speaking. "Tomorrow, I will go back to the house," Catherine told him brightly, too brightly, "And I shall be prepared. I shall let the memories come. I will cry and I will laugh and I will remember things long forgotten. And I will come away happier for having seen it all through." Her voice trailed away, as a ghost of a smile touched her eyes.

"And then you will run here to me to my arms and weep." Vincent told her very tenderly.

Catherine nodded, "Yes", was all she could say, as the silent tears fell again.

"Then would you like me to come to your apartment this evening Catherine?" Catherine smiled weakly at him, "No I don't think so Vincent. I shall have a shower and relax and prepare myself for tomorrow, and then have an early night. Thank you for being here for me Vincent, your compassion has strengthened me, as I knew that it would." Vincent nodded and hugged her tightly before leaving her alone to return to his world below.

 

But Catherine was unprepared for the dreams. Having sifted through parts of her past all evening her dreams robbed her of much needed sleep. Mangled dreams entwined memories. Fearful, frightening dreams which held her fast in their steely grip. She tried to get out of them forcing herself against their chains. Breaking them, breaking through the many chains that held her straight into the safety of his arms. Catherine woke, startled. Where was she? Below? No! Not Below. She was in her apartment in her own bed, but Vincent's arms were around her, his soft words of comfort whispering in her ear, "Catherine I'm here. I felt your anguish." He was rocking her, cradling her against his body, like a mother or a father would a child.

"I'm sorry Vincent" was all she could stammer, "It was just a dream, that's all."

"Dreams can be so real Catherine. I felt your fear. I knew your pain. I needed to come to be with you. To help you, I want to help you Catherine" his words so softly spoken filled her heart. Catherine knew what it took for him to come to her, to hold her close like this upon her bed. It brought a longing for other things. Desires they had to deny themselves. But why? Catherine stole a look up at his face. That dear leonine face that she loved so much, and instinctively reached up to trace a line with her fingertips over his forehead, and down his cheek to follow the line of his jaw and back up to his mouth. Vincent's eyes burned with fire, the touch of her fingers leaving a blazing trail of hot desire that descended right down to his toes. He shuddered, holding her tighter against him, feeling the race of her heartbeat and abruptly he drew away.

"Vincent?" Catherine queried.

"Will you be all right now Catherine?" he turned away from her, drawing his cloak more firmly around him.

"You're not going are you?"

"I must Catherine."

"Vincent, no please stay." Her voice husky with emotion forced him to close his eyes tightly, and rock slightly upon his feet, torn between leaving and staying. He groaned, suddenly making a decision and headed for the balcony. Catherine's words stopped him, as in a voice as plaintive as a child's she whispered, "I need you Vincent."

He turned then looking back at her knelt upon the bed, her eyes begging him to stay with her. Vincent looked away unable to meet those compelling eyes, and whispered, "I must go Catherine. I must." Within the flicker of a heartbeat Catherine was beside him, and as he made to step forward her arms wound around his waist. He felt her rest her cheek against his back, her heart pleading with him to stay with her. Vincent was torn. He knew she needed him, but he could not trust himself to stay. Catherine felt his body tense beneath her hands, and reluctantly she withdrew them. She was being unfair. She knew how much he desired her and fought against that desire. To force him now would destroy him, and it was selfish of her to demand it.

Catherine drew in a long steady breath, then with as much conviction as she could muster told him, "I'll see you tomorrow Vincent, thank you for coming here tonight." And saw his body relax, but he did not turn around and then he was gone, out over the balcony, away into the night.

 

The following day, armed with the strength she had drawn from Vincent, Catherine marched up to the front door of her father's house, let herself in and went straight upstairs.

There was much to be done.

Collecting old tea chests from the attic Catherine refused to let her mind dwell on the reasons behind those boxes. Or of the days they had been used to transport items to the cabin in the mountains that her parents owned. There the three of them had spent many happy holidays by the lake. Keeping an open mind Catherine sifted through the drawers and personal belongings, until she was satisfied that she was making headway and then she went downstairs to make herself a hot drink.

As she waited for the kettle to boil, the sight of the swing caught her eye and yesterday's memories charged back into focus threatening to take her down once again. Catherine shook herself and reached through the Bond to Vincent begging for another infusion of courage and received it almost at once. Catherine smiled, obviously Vincent was very in tune with her that day. Probably was with her every step of the way, and silently she thanked him.

 

Later that day Catherine had cleared most of the things into various boxes and had labelled them. Next she carried a whole drawer downstairs and picking up a box of tissues as she passed she carried them with her to the sofa where she allowed herself time to sift through her father's most precious treasure-trove as he had called it. Catherine had saved this drawer until last, knowing its contents would crumple her, and she needed to be strong to face it. Reaching through to Vincent once again, Catherine was grateful for the steady flow of love that he sent back to her via their connection, understanding that this next task could break her. Catherine picked up a key to open the box held within the drawer and putting it into the lock turned it slowly.

Placing her fingers around the brass handle she pulled up the lid, then extracted the contents completely onto the sofa beside her. With the light from the window behind her, Catherine started to sift through her father's most precious memories, letting them take her back, far, far back to her childhood and beyond.

And as she picked up a book entitled The Velveteen Rabbit, Catherine reached for the first tissue as the threatened tears started to flow.

 

Part 2.